Aptera Motors is delaying the delivery of its fancy three-wheeled electric ride by nearly a year, blaming design oversight for the postponement.
The startup carmaker, based in Vista, Calif., had aimed to start delivering the 2e (previously called Typ-1) by the end of 2008. After surveying its customers a few months ago, Aptera realized it had overlooked adding features that typical drivers have come to expect.
"We have come to realize there were flaws in our initial product assumptions – specifically as it pertains to satisfying the needs of real-world consumers," according to a letter Aptera sent to its customers this week, who have paid the $500 deposit. "For example, you helped us realize that some trade-offs for convenience (like being able to grab a burger in a drive-thru) might be necessary to make the ownership experience more palatable, even if it costs us a couple tenths of a point on our drag coefficient."
Although the customers received the letter this week, it appeared that Aptera had disclosed the delay previously in this Edmunds blog post last November.
The company is the latest carmaker having trouble fulfilling promises. San Carlos, Calif.-based Tesla Motors, also a startup electric carmaker, recently delayed launching its second model after having trouble raising enough money to build a new factory (see Cash-Strapped Tesla Raises $40M, Loses Lawsuit).
Aptera, which raised $24 million last year from investors including Google, now expects to start producing the 2e for delivery to customers on Oct. 1 this year (see Aptera Scores $24M to Produce Electric Ride). In the mean time, it plans to produce some 2e cars for testing.
Aptera also realized that it really should have a good grasp of the actual demand for its electric vehicle, especially when the economy is poor and money is tight.
The company has priced the 2e at between mid-$20,000 and mid-$40,000, depending on options. The company said back in September that more than 3,600 people had pre-ordered the 2e, which will come in both all-electric and plug-in hybrid format.
So it's asking customers to make their deposit non-refundable. Those who are willing to do so would get a $250 credit toward buying the 2e. Aptera said it's making the request simply to figure out its production volume for the first year, and has promised not to use the deposits for the company operations.
The two-seater 2e comes with airbags for the driver and passenger and a trunk space the company said is large enough to fit 15 bags of groceries or a couple of seven-foot-long surf boards. It can go up to 120 miles per charge.
The company is learning some hard lessons about becoming a commercial carmaker at a time when veterans in the industry are facing declining sales and money shortages.
General Motors and Chrysler have promised to make more fuel-efficient cars in exchange for government aid (see U.S. Automakers Get Federal Bailout). Toyota Motor Corp., which plans to show off an all-electric concept car at the Detroit auto show this month, is suspending production at all of its 12 factories in Japan for 11 days in February and March to save money.
Odyne Corp., which develops propulsion systems for plug-in hybrid electric cars, said Monday it's suspending operations. The Happaugue, N.Y.-based company, whose stock is traded over the counter, will layoff most of its employees, liquidating assets and stopping leases.
Car battery makers also are angling for government help. A123Systems, a battery startup that filed papers for a initial public offering last summer, said Monday it had applied for part of the $25 billion program approved by Congress last September to help carmakers and parts makers to produce energy-efficient vehicles such as plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars.
A123Systems, based in Watertown, Mass., is angling for $1.84 billion in loans to build lithium-ion battery factories, the company said. The battery maker would like to build the first factory in southeast Michigan.
Another lithium-ion battery maker, EnerDel Inc. in Indianapolis is looking for $480 million loans from the same source, called the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program. Tesla also is seeking $400 million from the program.